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It’s never a question of funding, rather priorities: Making the area around the Van Andel Arena more appealing or providing housing relief for marginalized families?

September 20, 2022

On Monday, it was announced that Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. would receive an $800,000 State grant offered through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. This grant is to upgrade an alleyway between the Van Andel Arena and numerous bars and restaurants which have their back entrance facing the arena.

According to MLive, the project would repave the alley, add some green space, seating and relocate dumpsters that the businesses currently use to a more central location. The $800,000 grant is only part of the $4.5 million that the project is estimated to cost. In 2021, landscaping in the front of the area was completed, which cost $2.1 million.

The state entity that granted the $800,000 for the project, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, has a board of directors that is made up of corporate representatives and other well connected people from foundations to universities.  The entity that submitted the grant proposal, The Right Place Inc., also has a board of directors that are mostly part of the corporate world, with first and second tier members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure.

The MLive article does not provide further information on where the rest of the funding has come from – $4.5 million for the current alley project, with $2.1 million for the 2021 completed project in the front plaza of the arena – but I would suspect that there have been other costs incurred by the public.

However, if we just looked at the $800,000 state grant that was recently awarded to improve the alleyway between the east side of the arena and a string of businesses, that is no small amount of money. In fact, if we think about how that money could have been re-purposed, for saying housing support, then $800,000 takes on a different tone. 

For example, if $800,000 were equally distributed to families looking to put a $50,000 down payment on a house, that would mean that sixteen families would be able to purchase a home. If we are talking about rent support to families, and each family would receive $5000 in rent support, which would easily cover 5 – 6 months of rent, then 160 families would get $5000 each. This would be significant, since it would provide a great deal of relief to families who are always struggling to make rent on a monthly basis. Having enough to cover rent for 5 or 6 months would give them some breathing room, potentially reduce stress and minimize the chances of these families being either homeless or forced to stay in a shelter or other types of transitional housing.

Of course, if we took it a step further and looked at the total that will be spent on upgrading the Van Andel Arena plaza and the east side alleyway, which is $6.6 million, then we have exponentially raised the bar to provide even more housing relief for families. With the $6.6 million, it would provide 132 families with a $50,000 downpayment for a home, and 1320 families $5000 to go towards rent that would likely cover half a year. Now we are talking about 1352 families that would experience some form of housing assistance with the money that is currently being spent on making the Van Andel Arena area more pleasant for those attending arena events and those spending money to eat and drink at nearby establishments.

I always find it interesting that when it comes to development projects in the City of Grand Rapids, those involved never really seem to have a problem finding funding for projects that benefit members of the business class, the professional class or tourists who come to Grand Rapids because it is marketed as a tourist destination. However, when it comes to providing economic relief to families that are experiencing poverty, those that are struggling, which are often the most marginalized, then finding funding doesn’t seem so easy. If however, the narrative were to shift, where instead of making development projects the priority, families who are experiencing poverty were given priority, how would people view Grand Rapids then? 

The Black Freedom Struggle and the Justice4Patrick Movement in Grand Rapids

September 19, 2022

It has been five and a half months since the GRPD murdered Patrick Lyoya, with a bullet to the back of his head. The judicial system, which is part of the Prison Industrial Complex, has been dragging their feet on moving forward with the prosecution of Christopher Schurr, the ex-cop who killed Patrick on April 4th of this year.

Over the past five and one half months, there has been a tremendous amount of organizing, resistance and protesting over the murder of Patrick, coupled with demands to reduce the funding of the GRPD. 

During these five and one half months, there have been lots of criticism from various sectors, specifically criticism of those organizing under the banner of Justice4Patrick. Some of that criticism has come from the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association, the GRPD, Grand Rapids City Officials and pro-Police groups like Voice for the Badge. This is to be expected, since the Justice4Patrick movement is not just demanding justice for the Lyoya family, they are confronting the very way that the City of Grand Rapids is complicit with the GRPD, police funding and how policing is done in this city, specifically how policing disproportionately impact BIPOC residents.

At the same time there has also been plenty of criticism coming from groups that are generally identified as liberal, even progressive. The Kent County Democratic Party, for instance, made it known to their members to stay away from or to not participate in any of the actions that have been organized by those operating under the Justice4Patrick banner; the marches, protests and the ongoing presence of people challenging GR City officials during City Commission meetings. Democratic State Representative David LaGrand, in late July, posted on his FB page that the anger displayed by BIPOC people during City Commission meetings was “misplaced,” even unproductive. These comments are instructive, since they are coming from a politician that has continued to endorse more funding for policing, even funding for the recruitment of more cops. This call for more funding for cops has been a consistent message from the Democratic Party, from President Biden, to Senator Gary Peters, Gov. Whitmer, on down to State and County Democratic Party officials. 

Over the over again, those involved in the Justice4Patrick movement are counseled to be patient, to let the system work, to be nice and to not make too many demands. As someone who has explored the rich history of the Black Freedom Struggle in the US, this sort of counsel, which almost always comes from systems of power and those with more privilege, is very similar to the counsel that those involved in the Black Freedom Struggle have heard over the past two centuries. Whether we are talking about the 19th Century Abolitionist Movement, to those involved in the Reconstruction era, the Jim Crow era, the Civil Rights era, the Black Power era, or the Black Lives Matter era, these movements have always had significant push back from systems of power or from groups that are part of the non-profit/social service/religious communities, what some from refer to as buffer groups. Buffer groups are often organizations who practice Respectability Politics and prefer to work within systems of power, as opposed to those working to dismantle systems of power. 

Observations of the Justice4Patrick Movement

So as to be transparent, I have been part of the Justice4Patrick movement since it began. However, what I want to speak on now, is not about my own involvement, but what I have observed from those involved in this work. In addition, I want to say that I have been part of various social movements since I first moved to Grand Rapids in the early 1980s, such as the anti-Nuclear, Central American Solidarity, Housing Justice, anti-war, anti-Globalization, anti-racist, Food Justice, Environmental Justice and Immigrant Justice Movements that have come and gone over the past four decades. What follows are some of my observations about the Justice4Patrick movement, which includes the movement to Defund the GRPD.

  • There is a deep sense of commitment from many of those who have been part of the movement to demand justice for Patrick Lyoya and to Defund the GRPD. People show up, do all sorts of organizing work, which is often behind the scenes stuff, but is often the most important stuff that makes whatever action possible. This commitment has been both constant and consistent. In fact, the kind of commitment I have witnessed is often overlooked, because we don’t talk about what is actually necessary for social movements to have a real impact. It’s one thing to show up at a march, but it is another thing to organize a march, to get the word out, to make sure there is a clear message, that there is crowd safety, street medics, support people for transportation. This is what I mean by commitment.
  • A second thing that I have observed in recent months is very much related to people’s commitment, which is what one might call moral fortitude. It takes a great deal of physical, emotional and psychological energy to keep showing up and showing out. Think about it. Systems of power and oppression are constantly working against you, whether we are talking about cops, politicians, cop-apologist groups, and others who want to tear you down, bad mouth you or refer to you as unrealistic. Now, I know it is fashionable to think that those who are constantly in the street, engaging Mutual Aid work, confronting power or attending meetings, are people who are “career activists” who get paid by people like George Soros. The reality is, those who have consistently showed up are regular people, people with families, jobs, student loans, car payments, people who care for pets, people who work intheir gardens, people who grieve and those that dream of a better world.
  • A third thing that I have observed from those involved in the Justice4Patrick movement is that these are people who are single issue focused. More and more, particularly with younger organizers, I have witness a great deal of intersectionality in both their analysis and their practice. These are people who really care about their communities and have a constant desire to learn and grow in the practice of Collective Liberation. 
  • A final thing I have witnessed from people in recent months are those engaged in radical imagination. The great Puerto Rican poet, Martin Espada says, “No change for the good ever happens without it being imagined first, even if that change seems hopeless or impossible in the present.” Engaging in radical imagination means to imagine a world where there are no cops, where everyone has their basic needs met, where people can be free of doing meaningless work that only lines the pockets of capitalists or spend most of their days taking care of themselves and others. Radical Imagination can lead us to a world where care, compassion and joy are what we can all experience on a daily basis.

A great deal more could be said about what I have observed in recent months from the community of care and resistance that have been organizing around Justice4Patrick and the defunding of the GRPD. But let me leave you with this. The commitment, the moral fortitude, the intersectionality, and the radical imagination that is being practiced by the community of those operating under the banner of the Justice4Patrick movement are continuing the legacy of the Black Freedom Struggle here in Grand Rapids. We all should be supporting them! 

MLive reporter fails to see or explore the serious conflicts of interest when reporting on the proposed soccer stadium, public money and the DeVos family

September 19, 2022

Last week, we wrote about the proposed Soccer stadium that is deeply entrenched within the control of the DeVos family.

In that article, we discussed the recent land purchase by Dan DeVos, under the name of  DF Fox Ventures LLC. The land in question is where the current Big Boy restaurant currently sits, which would be the southern end of the potential stadium property.

We also discussed how the DeVos family has so many other connections to those who will make the decisions and have a say in the financing of this project – Grand Action 2.0, the Downtown Development Authority, the Right Place Inc., etc.

Since then there have been two additional news stories on MLive that are worthy discussing, particularly as it relates to the possible Soccer Stadium being located in downtown Grand Rapids.

The first article, from the past Friday, was an MLive article focused mainly on all of the submissions for how to spend the $127.6 million in COVID-19 stimulus funding that Kent County received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). In that article, the reporter spends several paragraphs discussing the fact that the, “Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority made the request for assistance for the proposed $125 million stadium.” 

Now, the ARPA funds can only being used to cover costs incurred by existing businesses or projects, not one that is only on paper at this point. The fact that the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority, which also has a DeVos employee and two politicians who have received DeVos campaign contributions, should tell you something about how shameless these people are. Everyone who submitted a proposal to access ARPA funds being administered through the county knew exactly who was eligible for those funds. The fact that the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority submitted a request to use ARPA funds for the soccer stadium simply demonstrates that they were hoping that their submission would be considered, since those making the decisions are always influenced by money. 

The second MLive article, which was from yesterday, is more directly about the proposed downtown Grand Rapids soccer stadium, with the headline, As group eyes Grand Rapids soccer stadium, questions swirl over housing, neighborhood impact. Housing concerns are high on the list for many people in this community, so MLive was right to look at this issue as it relates to the proposed soccer stadium. Unfortunately, the MLive reporter did not explore the housing consequences very far. 

For instance, there were two westside neighborhood association representatives cited in the story, but only one of them addresses housing. The spokesperson from the West Grand Neighborhood Organization did make the comment, “We desperately need housing, so I’m not sure how a soccer stadium’s going to accomplish that goal.” However, the MLive reporter does not explore the implications of the desperate need for more housing, particularly affordable housing. There was also no discussion about building the proposed soccer stadium in the area behind the YMCA, which is primarily parking. If the soccer stadium goes there, it will displace most, if not all, of those surface parking spots, which means they will need room for more parking. This gets more complicated, since GVSU owns most of the other parking spaces in that area and is not likely to give up those spaces. In addition, building a soccer stadium might raise the cost of property taxes in the area, which could negatively impact home owners and cause an increase in rental costs as well. 

Unfortunately, none of these issues are explored. Instead, the MLive reporter gives lots of print space to comments from Grand Action 2,0 and to Richard Winn, who is chair of the board of directors for the Downtown Development Authority (DDA). The MLive reporter did mention that Richard Winn is the president of AHC Hospitality, which is owned by the DeVos family, but they did not mention that Winn and another DDA member, Greg McNeilly, have been longtime political operatives for the DeVos family. Even more egregious is the fact that the MLive article did not mention that Richard Winn sits on the board of the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority, which just submitted a proposal to use COVID relief money, public money, for the proposed soccer stadium. This all screams of conflict of interest!

Once again, we see how local news reporting, which is critical in this instance around the current housing crisis and the tremendous influence of the DeVos family, fails the public by not exploring the connections and the numerous conflicts of interest. Instead, the MLive reporter finds too many people who happily regurgitate messages about how wonderful a new soccer stadium would be for downtown Grand Rapids. As is generally the case with the local commercial news media, they fail to ask who will really benefit from a new soccer stadium. Or maybe they want us to just forget about all of this non-sense and enjoy ArtPrize.

Stephen and Amy Van Andel are one of the largest donors to Hillsdale College, one of the most reactionary, far right colleges in the US

September 18, 2022

Members of the Van Andel family have been contributing money to the far right Hillsdale College for decades. While writing for an independent newspaper in the 1990s, I wrote about this dynamic in an article, Giving til it hurts others: Another look and Rich DeVos & Jay Van Andel’s benevolence. In his book, The Religious Right in Michigan Politics, author Russ Bellant also documents the longstanding contributions from the Van Andel family to Hillsdale College.

In looking at the most recent 990 documents for the Stephen & Amy Van Andel Foundation that are available from GuideStar, here is how much the couple donated to the ultra-conservative Hillsdale College:

  • $1,200,000 2018
  • $3,000,000 2019
  • $4,200,000 2020

This means that in just a three year period, from 2018n – 2020, the Stephen & Amy Van Andel College has contributed $8,400,000 to promote the far right perspectives taught at Hillsdale.

Hillsdale College has a long history of practicing and promoting far right values. The former President of Hillsdale College, George Roche, was also on the advisory board of the US affiliate of the World Anti-Communist League, according to Scott and Jon Lee Andersen’s book, Inside the League: The Shocking Expose of How Terrorists, Nazis, and Latin American Death Squads Have Infiltrated the World Anti-Communist League.

Hillsdale College has hosted forums over the years with speakers such as Manuel Ayau, a member of Guatemala’s Amigos del Pais, a group linked to the death squads in Guatemala. Hillsdale also houses the late John Bircher Clarence Manion’s tape collection, with lectures from former Nicaraguan Dictator Anastasio Somoza Hillsdale’s magazine, Imprimis, which provides a forum for anti-minority views. 

In another book by Russ Bellant, The Coors Connection: How Coors Family Philanthropy Undermines Democratic Pluralism, the author writes: 

“Longtime Hiilsdale President Roche is opposed in general to social engineering plans, among which he includes affirmative action and public education. Roche has attacked the Civil Rights Restoration Act as frightening federal intervention. He calls affirmative action “the putrid backwash of all the tired social engineering schemes and complains that its advocates are so hypersensitive that a school’s unwillingness to set up advanced bongo drum programs is called racist.” 

Bellant goes on to say: 

“The selection of contributors for Hillsdale’s monthly magazine, Imprimis, also relfects the school’s far right political views. In one issue, Gerda Bikales, a founder and former executive director of the English Only organization, US English, condemned the advocates of cultural diversity and bilingual education. She attacked the skilled language planners and other militant advocates who promote bilingual education, as well as those who aggressively pursue diversity and cultural pluralism.”

However, don’t just take the word of Bellant, even a recent article in the New York Times made it clear that the politics of Hillsdale College are reactionary and far right.

Because Hillsdale College does not accept federal money, they do not have to follow federal policy, like Title IX.  As a result, the college does not follow Title IX guidelines on sex discrimination and the handling of sexual assault cases and it has refused to engage in the otherwise required reporting on student race and ethnicity, let alone develop an affirmative action plan. Not surprisingly, the school’s “race blind” admissions policy results in an overwhelmingly white student body.

In 2013, Dr. Arnn was castigated by Michigan legislators when, during testimony against the Common Core, he made a remark about officials who questioned Hillsdale’s racial record. Years before, he said scornfully, Michigan officials had come to the campus with clipboards, trying to count faces and prove, he said, that the college “didn’t have enough dark ones.” He later issued a barbed apology: “No offense was intended by the use of that term except to the offending bureaucrats.”

The New York Times article goes on to say:

It is no coincidence that Justice Clarence Thomas, an advocate of strict “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution, delivered the commencement address last spring, likening Hillsdale to a “shining city on a hill” for its devotion to “liberty as an antecedent of government, not a benefit from government.”

On a recent episode of Doug DeVos’ podcast Believe, GRIID provided some analysis on the comments from the current Hillsdale College President, Dr. Larry Arnn, which are here below.

The President of Hillsdale College engages in what most scholars refer to as American Exceptionalism. American Exceptionalism is the idea that the US as a country is unique and special and should be seen as a model for the rest of the world. This sentiment is reflected in the conversation between Dr. Arnn and Doug DeVos, since neither of them mention anything about the US genocidal policies directed at the First Nation’s people that lived here way before the Europeans invaded these lands. 

The Hillsdale President does acknowledge slavery, but just in passing. Interestingly enough, Dr. Arnn then spends a great deal of time talking negatively about the 1619 Project, stating: 

You know, the New York Times has done that fright­ful 1619 Project. And they claim that the move­ment of the found­ing of Amer­i­ca from the colonies for­ward was in the direc­tion of per­pet­u­at­ing slav­ery. 

The President of Hillsdale College then cites Gordon Wood as the leading US Historian, so as to contradict the claims made by the 1619 Project. This theme is not really explored by DeVos or his guest, since both are not interested in a serious exploration of the more honest history that the 1619 Project explores, particularly as it related to the centuries long practice of systemic racism in the US and how it has impacted the Black community in particular. 

While DeVos and his guest make backhanded comments about Critical Race Theory, they fail to mention that Hillsdale College has developed their own curriculum to counter the 1619 Project. The Hillsdale project is called The Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum, which is a very sanitized and whitewashed version of US history.

Hillsdale College is also smack dab in the middle of the Charter School debate in the US, providing curriculum resources and a cadre of ideological apologists for far right values. In fact, a recent investigation by NewsChannel5 in Tennessee, “discovered new evidence that reveals the true Hillsdale connection, including more hidden-camera video from the reception hosted by Hillsdale president Larry Arnn for Lee.

That’s the same video where Arnn famously declared that public school teachers come from “the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges.”

Following the release of that controversial video, three Tennessee school boards voted down applications from the Hillsdale-affiliated American Classical Education to open charter schools in their districts.

All of this is to show that, like so many other wealthy families from West Michigan, the Van Andel family has a long history of funding far right causes and institutions, like Hillsdale College. This example demonstrates once again, that philanthropic contributions are not simply charitable gifts, the foundations of wealthy families are designed to channel massive funds to promote their ideological interests. 

Tudor Dixon wants to present Gov. Whitmer as the Defunding the Police candidate, when both the Republicans and Democrats are calling for increased police funding in Michigan

September 15, 2022

On Tuesday, the Republican Gubernatorial candidate, Tudor Dixon, stood in front of the Grand Rapids Police Department and laid out her plan for funding police in Michigan if she wins the election against current Governor Gretchen Whitmer in November.

According to an MLive article, Dixon is proposing a $1 Billion increase in funding over a four year period, for the police and other first responders. Here is the breakdown from the MLive article:

Dixon’s campaign said the plan would “recruit and retain” more than 12,500 officers between local and state police, firefighters, paramedics and corrections officers. She would allot $700 million to that effort — about $56,000 per first responder — proposing they be offered perks like stipends during training and free hunting licenses. Another $250 million would be allocated to equipment, training and mental health support, with a final $50 million devoted to forensics lab expansions and tracking down fugitives.

You can read a more detailed account of the proposed $1 Billion over 4 years for cops and first responders at Tudor Dixon’s campaign site.

What is interesting about the proposal on the campaign site, is that there is language about Gov. Whitmer, claiming that crime has gone up in Michigan on her watch and that she has “defunded” some law enforcement programs. One would expect this, considering that candidates are in competition and always want to make their opponent look bad. 

The MLive reporter did reach out to the Whitmer camp to get a reaction. They did quote a spokesperson for the Whitmer campaign, Maeve Coyle, then wrote: 

Coyle said the 2021 budget included a 12 percent funding increase for the Michigan State Police and that the total number of police officers in the state has increased under Whitmer’s administration.

I’m sorry, but this is just plain lazy journalism. Sure, go ahead and get a response from the Whitmer camp, but then do you own work on verifying the claims of either candidate. 

A More Honest Journalistic Response

Here is what the 2023 Michigan Budget includes for policing for a 1 year period, which we wrote about in July, which clearly shows that Gov. Whitmer is committed to police funding:

  • $9.2 million to support a Trooper Recruit School (general fund) anticipated to graduate 50 new troopers in addition to the 120 troopers that are anticipated to be hired and trained using existing attrition savings. This investment allows the department to increase enlisted strength to nearly 2,200 while continuing to increase the diversity of uniformed personnel. 
  • $3.7 million to improve Data Collection during Traffic Stops (general fund) through the development of new tracking and documentation systems including a benchmarking dashboard and increasing data collected during traffic stops to allow for easier review and analysis of traffic stops made by the State Police. These improvements will build upon the recommendations of the recent Michigan State University Traffic Stop Study. 
  • $3 million to expand Training and Professional Development (general fund) to provide training on cultural competency, implicit bias, and decision-making to expand positive interactions between department members, minority groups, and the diverse communities that the department serves. 
  • $1.8 million to establish a Victim Services Program (general fund) that will support 14 full-time Victim Advocates across the state. These positions will serve to support victims’ needs early in their interactions with the criminal justice system while also building partnerships with community organizations in support of victim advocacy. 
  • $1.1 million to increase the department’s capacity to Prevent, Detect, and Investigate Cybercrimes (general fund). This investment will support statewide investigatory assistance and digital forensic examinations to further the department’s position as a leader in areas of cyber security, computer crimes, and digital evidence. 
  • $1 million for Trooper Recruitment (general fund) to broaden the racial, ethnic, and gender makeup of the department to make it more representative of the communities it serves. This investment will support digital marketing campaigns, recruiting events, and improved public relations to assist the department in achieving its recruiting goals for enlisted positions.

Clearly, Gov. Whitmer has not been engaged in any defending of police departments, despite the claims of the Dixon campaign.

Therefore, the MLive reporter failed to do their own investigation of how Governor Whitmer has already adopted a 2023 Budget, which provides a significant increase in funding for the police. In addition, the reporter could have looked at how much money Gretchen Whitmer has received from police unions in Michigan. The website, No More Cop Money provides data on police union campaign contributions to all elected officials in Michigan, which you can access here.

The MLive reporter could also have talked to Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young to get a response for why she stood with Dixon on Tuesday, or any of the other area legislators and cops who were present to endorse the GOP candidate. That, of course, did not happen.

Lastly, the MLive reporter could have asked the basic question about Dixon’s police funding plan and how adding more cops would reduce crime. This is a basic, but critical question, because there is plenty of research that shows that having more cops does not reduce crime. In fact, policing in general is not an effective strategy to combat crime, based on this excellent report from the group Interrupting Criminalization, entitled, Cops Don’t Stop Violence.

In the end the public is left with the top two gubernatorial candidates fighting to out do each other on funding for the police. Where is there a candidate that supports defunding? They are no where to be found in Michigan, which is exactly why social movements like the Movement 4 Black Lives and other grassroots groups are engaging in direct action to get local police departments to defund, instead of relying on a political system where both parties want to increase funding for cops.

Cosecha Michigan protest encampment – Day 2: The con of representative democracy

September 15, 2022

On Day 1 of the Cosecha encampment in Lansing, we talked about how the systems of power pushed back against their plan to have a non-violent encampment, along with interactions the immigrant activists had with a far right Christian rally. In this post we want to primarily talk about how the political system of representative democracy fails the basic needs of the people.

In Day 2, Cosecha members were still being harassed by local police and the private security firm that security for Lansing City Hall. DK Security has had a contract with the City of Lansing for several years now, which is part of the privatization of security for local governments. Interestingly enough, DK Security is based in Grand Rapids, plus the Sr. Vice President of the company is Kevin Belk. Belk was part of the GRPD for several decades, and like many who used to work police departments, Belk transitioned to doing private security, which has even less accountability.

The Lansing police department kept sending officers to talk with the Cosecha police liaison, playing the good cop role, while sending patrol officers out to monitor and film Cosecha members throughout the day. The cop pictured here on the right, was filming immigrant activists while he was driving, using a cell phone.

One of the activities that the Lansing Police were filming was their crosswalk action and their information distribution. Since Cosecha members were located in front of City Hall (which is right across the street from the Lansing State Capital), they were able to distribute literature about their efforts to win Driver’s Licenses for All. This area in front of the State Capital is a business district, with lots of foot traffic, so Cosecha members were handing out information to people throughout the morning. In addition, their crosswalk action – which is when people walk slow, holding signs and banners, often causing some backup of traffic – was a useful tactic to get even more attention and to hand out flyers to people in cars.

At about 1:15pm, the immigrant activists when into the State Capital, since there was a scheduled session of the State House of Representatives. The session on Tuesday did not have enough people, so it was cancelled within 20 minutes. When the Cosecha activists showed up at the entrance of the State House room, they were told by the men in the red coats – also Capital security – that the session had already been cancelled, since there would not be a quorum. The guys in the red coats even changed the signage to Thursday, while Cosecha activists were talking with them before it was time for the scheduled session on Wednesday.

At this point Cosecha members decided to go to the office of the Speaker of the State House, Rep. Jason Wentworth. Wentworth was named Speaker of the House just after the 2020 Election. Rep. Wentworth was the person who cancelled the scheduled hearing for Driver’s Licenses last year, which Cosecha Michigan planned to speak at. Three Cosecha members were allowed to enter Wentworth’s office to talk with his staff. The staff person did not seemed to know anything about the Driver’s Licenses bill, but told the Cosecha activists that Rep. Wentworth was not in town. In fact, Wentworth’s staff said he was out campaigning to win re-election this November. According to Ballotpedia, Rep. Wentworth has raised more than any other legislator this election cycle, raising $831,900 as of July.

Once Cosecha members had finished their brief conversation with Wentworth’s staff, then went back up to the area in front of the entrance to where the House of Representatives holds their sessions. It was here that the immigrant justice movement members decided to do two things. First, they decided to provide a live Spanish/English description of the meeting they just had with Wentworth’s staff, which included letting people know that Wentworth was not only available to meet with residents of Michigan, he chose not to come to the House chambers, since it was his priority to campaign run for re-election.

The second thing that Cosecha activist did was to hold their own hearing on Driver’s Licenses, what they referred to as a People’s Hearing. During the People’s Hearing, Cosecha members talked about their own lived experience as undocumented immigrants and why obtaining Driver’s Licenses is so vitally important to them and their family. Other members talked about how so many undocumented workers, which are essential workers, don’t have driver’s licenses, which constantly puts them at risk with the cops and ICE agents. One Cosecha member, an older woman, talked about how essential having a driver’s licenses was, especially for basic things like going to the pharmacy to get medication or to the grocery store to buy food, things we often take for granted. The People’s Hearing is exactly what they what the State Representatives needed to hear, but because so few even bothered to show up to do their job of representing the people, they wouldn’t hear the powerful testimony provided by Cosecha activists.

What the past few days has demonstrated to this writer, is that the system of Representative Democracy is a bankrupt system. Residents of Michigan, who traveled hours to come to Lansing to speak with elected officials were denied the opportunity to do so. Not only were they deny the opportunity to speak with elected officials, they were denied the opportunity to show elected officials how urgently important it would be to the immigrant community to have something as essential as Driver’s Licenses to provide basic necessities for their families and their community. There was nothing that happened over the past two days that would demonstrate any aspect of the most basic democratic principles, apart from the autonomous, horizontal, compassionate actions of the immigrant justice activists who refused to give up. Hasta La Huelga!

Cosecha Michigan protest encampment – Day 1

September 14, 2022

Yesterday, Movimiento Cosecha Michigan began the first of their three day protest and encampment at the State Capital in Lansing.

It was one year ago today, that Movimiento Cosehca converged on the State Capital to continue their fight to win Driver’s Licenses for All in Michigan. As we wrote a year ago, just 15 minutes before the committee hearing on the proposed legislation to allow undocumented people to obtain a driver’s license, the Speaker of the House of Representatives canceled the hearing.

Since then there has been no movement on this legislation, which is very frustrating and insulting to the immigrant community. Having Driver’s Licenses is critical for people to feel safe to go about their daily lives – going to work, picking up children from school, going to the grocery store, etc. In addition, if undocumented immigrants are stopped by the police, it put them at serious risk of being reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

There was a scheduled session in the State House of Representatives today, which the Cosecha members decided to sit in on, but after 20 minutes there were only a handful of elected officials present, so the session was canceled. Undeterred, the immigration justice activists continued to engage in disruptive tactics with the Capital building.

Eventually the group moved outside, since they were going to prepare for an encampment on the State Capital property. However, upon exiting the building, Cosecha Michigan members came upon a rally that was being held by Christians who were also Trump supporters, less than 100 of them. Their rally encompassed information to vote no on Proposal 3, since they oppose abortion, plus they were talking about the “stolen election in 2020” and how public education is both indoctrination and a form of communism. However, the most outlandish thing that was said by one of the speakers, was that Sal Alinsky, author of the book Rules for Radicals, had dedicated his book to Lucifer. I shit you not.

Cosecha is accustomed to engaging in disruptive tactics, so when they left the Capital building, they began to chant along the perimeter of the Christian Right’s rally. The overwhelmingly white crowd did not take kindly to what Cosecha was doing, and tried to prevent Cosecha members from walking anywhere near their event, even going as far as to push some of the female Cosecha participants. This writer was doing crowd safety and was able to get between a white guy and one of the Cosecha organizers, who was now pushing against me. In fact, at one point they went inside to get Capital police to complain about Cosecha and use them to silence the immigrant justice advocates, as you can see here in this picture below.

The Christian Right rally then ended and Cosecha members began to set up for their encampment. Within minutes, the Capital police and an unidentified man who claimed to work for the Capital, told us that we could not set up tents or tables on Capital property. Cosecha organizers then decided to move the encampment to the public sidewalk in front of the State Capital, which is pretty deep and would have been enough space to set up on. However, the guy from the Capital and Capital police came out again and said that the sidewalk was also part of the Capital. When asked what they would do if we didn’t leave, they said they would have their people come out and haul away our tents and tables, then arrest us.

Unwilling to give up, Cosecha Michigan then set up an encampment in front of the Lansing City Hall, which is directly across the street from the Capital. As you can see from the picture below, we were able to set up tents, tables and canopies, just in case it would rain. The Lansing City PD then came, but did not kick us out and said that they would get back to us if the encampment was a problem. The Lansing City PD never called that first night, so we all sat around putting the finishing touches on the encampment, sharing wonderfully cooked food and telling stories. This was Day 1 of the Cosecha protest encampment. We’ll see what Day 2 brings, but Day 1 was filled with hope, passion and a deep commitment to the struggle. La Lucha Sigue y Sigue!

Political Ads are designed to be vague, deceptive and to misinform the public: Part II

September 12, 2022

In Part I, we discussed some of the larger reasons why political ads are so offensive. We talked about how journalism has failed us on election coverage and how candidates center themselves instead of the community or issues that people care about.

In Part II, we want to look at a recent political ad, one that could be described as an attack ad, and one that severely misinforms the public. 

The political ad in question, was an attack ad paid for by the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is a GOP Political Action Committee, with the following mission statement:   

Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) is the super PAC dedicated exclusively to one goal: winning a Republican Majority in the House of Representatives. 

The paid ad is part of a website that attacks the democratic Party Candidate for the 3rd Congressional District, Hillary Scholten, which has as the main page banner a picture of Hillary Scholten and this phrase, “Hillary Scholten stood with rioters. Not us.”

Here is the 30 second ad, paid for by the Congressional Leadership Fund:

The ad begins with an image of cops in riot gear, with text that says, “riots in Grand Rapids,” and a voice over saying, “Two years ago, peace was shattered in our community.” First off, how is it that an ad that is paid for by a GOP Political Action Committee, located in Washington, DC, how can they say “our community” when referring to Grand Rapids?

The ad continues by listing the number of cop cars burned, the number of businesses that were damaged by the 2020 uprising and the cost of the damage done because of the uprising.

Then comes the punch line, “Hillary Scholten’s response just one day after the riots? She dismissed the destruction and praised the rioters. And Scholten worked with a group that wanted the rioters to get away with destruction. Hillary Scholten is with them, not us.”

The critical points to deconstruct here are the claims that 1) Scholten dismissed the destruction and praised the rioters, and 2) that she worked with a group that wanted to rioters to get away with destruction.

The first claim is supposedly based on comments from Hillary Scholten’s candidate Facebook page for May 31st, 2020. Here is what was actually posted. First, a picture of her and one of her children, sweeping up glass the day after the riot, with the comment you can see here on the right above.

The other post that Scholten made on May 31st, 2020, was a formal statement from here campaign, posted here below:

Now, in the first May 31st post comments, Scholten makes the point that she wants to, “repair the relationship between our police and communities of color.” Such a statement does dismiss the destruction, nor does it praise the rioters. In the campaign statement released on May 31st, 2020, it seems clear to this writer that Scholten believes that property damage done during the uprising was negative and that people who are protesting should always be “peaceful.” She even comes across as judging those who were protesting by saying that the destruction will make it more difficult to rebuild from the ongoing crisis brought on by the COVID crisis. Therefore, the ad’s claim that Scholar dismissed the destruction and praised the rioters is simply false.

As to the second major accusation, that Scholten worked with a group that wanted to rioters to get away with destruction, the ad’s source for this is an ACLU Michigan Media Release from June 9, 2020. Here is an excerpt from that Media Release: 

Now is a time for healing, which can begin with a demonstration of law enforcement officials’ commitment both to the freedom of speech and the need to address the systemic injustice these protests have highlighted. The first step, which the ACLU urges law enforcement statewide to take today, is to dismiss charges, or not to pursue prosecutions, in cases arising from the protests of the past two weeks.

While the ACLU Michigan Media Release makes clear they want police departments across the State of Michigan to not prosecute those involving the protests during late May/early June of 2020, but that is different that saying they wanted rioters to get away with destruction. More importantly, while Hillary Scholten has worked with the ACLU, primarily because of her work on immigration rights, there is no direct involvement in the June 9, 2020 Media Release from the ACLU of Michigan.

Clearly, the Congressional Leadership Fund wants to present candidate Scholten as someone who is lawless and can be viewed as having ideological positions as antifa. However, there is nothing from Scholten’s Campaign page, which would suggest that she is anti-establishment or that she is challenging systems of power and oppression. Scholten doesn’t even present information on her campaign page about the police, policing, nor the demands to defund policing that have come out of the Movement for Black Lives. In fact, the Democratic Party as a whole has consistently advocated for and voted for additional funding for the cops since the uprisings of 2020.

As with most political ads, the truth is irrelevant. If a political ad can get the public to associate a candidate with taking a position that is outside of mainstream politics, then that is all that they care about. In Part III of our look at political ads, we will look at a few examples of ads that are vague and use campaign buzzwords, but offer any real substance. 

Political Ads are designed to be vague, deceptive and to misinform the public: Part I

September 11, 2022

We are just under two months before the 2022 Elections, so get ready to be inundated with political deception, vague promises and lots of mud slinging, in the campaign ads that will be running through November 8.

Campaign advertising is detestable for numerous reasons. There is the obvious low hanging fruit, which is in the form of outright lies and deception. Then there are ads that use buzzwords and phrases like “the middle class”, “pro-life”, “health care access”, “family values”, and “fair wages.” These are generally meaningless terms that don’t provide voters with any clarity on where candidates stand. If a candidate says they will work towards medicare for all or work to win a minimum wage of $25 an hour, then you know where they stand. However, this rarely happens in political ads. 

The other thing about political ads is that they consume the bulk of the money candidates raise in their campaigns. This means, when you donate to a candidate, they will spend the bulk of whatever you donate on advertising bogus, misleading, deceptive or vague messages. During the 2020 Election, there was a total of $2.5 Billion spent on TV ads alone.

Now, candidates and campaign managers will often say that political ads are an essential way for people to get their name out. This is simply not true, and would be increasingly unnecessary, especially if the following were to happen. First, if journalist were to practice honest, investigative reporting, the public would have plenty of information to make a well informed decision on where candidates stand on critical issues. I have been tracking election coverage for the past 20 years in the Greater Grand Rapids news market, which means I have seen how awful and how little election coverage there is with local news outlets. 

In 2010, GRIID conducted a study of the Grand Rapids Press and compared their election coverage to their coverage of the art spectacle Artprize, which was happening at the same time. Here is a summary of our findings:

In 2004, we also conducted an election coverage study of the three Grand Rapids-based TV stations, looking at coverage for 30 days leading up to the November Election. The findings were astounding, especially considering it was a Presidential Election year. However, we noticed that local candidates/elections don’t get nearly enough coverage, not because they are not important, but because of what news agencies chose to focus on. We found that for the 30 days prior to the 2004 election, not one second of airtime was devoted to the 19 separate Kent County Commission races. During that same 30 day period, the three Grand Rapids-based TV stations aired 107 stories about a DC sniper. During that same election cycle, the WWE was in Grand Rapids at the Van Andel Arena, so we went down and interviewed people going in and asked them about why they liked professional wrestling, along with their thoughts about electoral politics, which you can watch here. 

Since the study we did in 2004, news rooms have continued to shrink, resulting in even worse election coverage.

Second, if candidates want to get people to support them, instead of hosting events that are highly scripted and managed, candidates should be centering the community, listening to the community, advocating with the community. Instead of asking for money to run misleading or vague political ads, how about candidates who are out raising money for families experiencing poverty, those that are struggling to afford rent, and those that are food insecure. This kind of a strategy does two things. First, it would provide economic relief to people who really need it. Second, it would provide candidates an opportunity to talk about making a livable wage, like $25 an hour, or how landlords and property management companies are exploiting tenants, or it could be an opportunity to talk about the unjust food system we have. Unfortunately, these types of strategies are not practiced, so we are left with the painfully realities of political ads for the next month. 

In Part II of this series, we will look at a current deceptive/attack ad, which is directed at a Congressional candidate. 

Proposed soccer stadium in downtown Grand Rapids is a study in how the DeVos family gets what they want – ownership and massive profits

September 8, 2022

Do you ever feel like members of the Capitalist Class in Grand Rapids get to do whatever the hell they want to? Well, it sure seems that way, which is exactly why GRIID attempts to monitor and write about people and organizations that we identify as being part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure.

On September 1st, MiBiz reported that the group that is behind the soon to be realized outdoor amphitheater, Grand Action 2.0, is now looking to potentially develop land between Pearl and Bridge St on the near westside for a soccer stadium. A rendering of the potential site can be seen at the bottom of this article.

The MiBiz story also points out that the DeVos family (specifically DP Fox Ventures LLC) recently purchased 407 Pearl St. NW for $3.175 million. DF Fox Ventures LLC is one of the DeVos family holdings that is run by Dan and Pamella DeVos. The fact that Dan DeVos is behind the purchase of this property, which is one piece of a potential site for a new soccer stadium, makes complete sense, especially since Dan DeVos is the chairman of the NBA team, the Orlando Magic, is co-owner of the Grand Rapids Griffins and was owner of the now defunct arena football team, the Grand Rapids Rampage. 

In Dave Zirin’s book, Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love, he discusses how wealthy sports team owners are constantly manipulating municipal governments and city residents to get them to provide massive subsidies for the construction of sports venues, like arena’s and stadiums. Zirin mentions how the DeVos family squeezed taxpayers in Orlando, when they wanted a new arena for their Orlando Magic basketball team. Zirin writes:

“And he’s (DeVos) is getting $1 billion in taxpayers’ money to build the arena. That sends a bad message. Indeed. At its core, the DeVos model could be characterized as theft of public funds that turns teams and arenas into slush funds for radical right politics.”

The MiBiz article cites Grand Action 2.0 spokesperson, Kara Wood, who used to work for the City of Grand Rapids. The article also cites Nick Wasmiller, who is the Director of Communications at RDV Corporation, even though the MiBiz article refers to him as a “DeVos Family spokesperson.” In addition, the article cites a memo about the potential soccer stadium, which was produced by the Right Place Inc., which has the current CEO of Amway on their Board of Directors and is a member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. 

On Wednesday, MLive also wrote a story about the potential soccer stadium, although they didn’t really have any new information about the project. MLive did reach out to other contacts to get some feedback on this story, such as the PR firm Truscott Rossman. John Truscott was the Press Secretary for Michigan Governor John Engler, and he sits of the Board of Directors of the Grand Rapids Economic Club. Truscott Rossman also does PR work for the West Michigan Policy Forum, which is also a member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. 

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. was also cited in the MLive article, as was a spokesperson for the City of Grand Rapids, along with Grand Rapids Mayor Bliss, who was quoted as saying, that “she was “excited about a project of this scale and the vibrancy it could add to our city and region.” 

Now, we all know that whenever Grand Action does a project, that the public ends up paying a significant portion of the cost, whether that is tax breaks by the city or the State of Michigan. This has been the case with every major project that Grand Action has been behind since they were founded. Here is a list of the Grand Action projects that have received significant public funding:

  • Van Andel Arena
  • DeVos Place
  • Meijer Majestic Theater
  • MSU Secchia Center
  • Grand Rapids Downtown Market
  • Downtown outdoor Amphitheater project – still in process

Despite the fact that the public has contributed large sums of money to these projects, and will to the soccer stadium, the public has no say in the matter. There will be no public vote on whether a soccer stadium gets built, nor who will own it. If the soccer stadium get built on in the area between Pearl and Bridge St., it will certainly have an impact on traffic, the need to create additional parking, and the likely displacement of existing residents or small businesses in the area. This kind of displacement has happened before. 

In the mid-1990s, when the Van Andel Arena was being built, that project took over existing City owned parking lots. At the same time, there was a development proposal in the works where the proposed soccer stadium might go on the westside. In the mid 1990’s, Jack Buchanan Jr. had the idea of re-developing the near westside. Buchanan bought up roughly 60 homes, continued to rent those spaces, but did nothing to maintain those properties. People were then forced to leave those rental properties, because Buchanan had plans to re-create that area, with office and residential space for members of the professional class. However, before all of the residents in the area had left, Chuck Peterson and myself, using equipment from GRTV, had interviewed a dozen different residents, all of which told us that Jack Buchanan Jr had not maintain the rental units. Some of those properties were so bad that when it rained, water would leak into the homes where people were living. People also told us that they were offered a 20 inch TV and one months rent if they agreed to leave and sign a non-disclosure agreement.

However, the project became too costly, so Buchanan ended up selling the land to the City of Grand Rapids, which constructed parking lots they needed because of the parking spaces that were displaced by the Van Andel Arena. Buchanan later tried to defraud the State of Michigan in another development project and went to jail in 2011.

The point of sharing this information is to say that the land that is being eyed as a potential site for the proposed soccer stadium, has a long history of rich people making bank, while screwing over working class families. 

Downtown Grand Rapids has an interesting history, with its origins being Settler Colonialism and the displacement of Indigenous communities. Since then downtown Grand Rapids has been a major hub for those with political and economic power to make and remake that part of the city, regardless of what the public thinks. Downtown Grand Rapids is like a playground for the members of the Capitalist Class, where they get what they want or they’ll throw a temper tantrum. And what they want is to continue to get the public to pay for their playground projects, while they sit back and watch their wealth exponentially increase. We should see the proposed soccer stadium as just the most recent example of the Capitalist Con, with the DeVos family being the primary beneficiaries.